Tribute to a talent

All of us at Luxury Locations would like to pass on our heartfelt sympathy to the family of Chefs 2 U founder Calvin Francis who died on July 19. Calvin was a long-standing client of ours who will be sadly missed.

The popular and award-winning cuisinier was just 42 when he was taken ill at work at his Mount St John’s Medical Centre-based restaurant. Calvin has been widely described as a warm, humble and loving gentleman whose contribution to the local catering industry was pioneering and unrivalled. The current edition of our magazine – which includes a feature about Calvin’s business – went to print before his passing. It can be read here:

Moveable feast
Private chefs make dining a piece of cake

food2Preparing to host a dinner party is not only challenging and time-consuming, one study revealed most of us find it more nerve-wracking than attending a job interview. From devising dishes to suit diverse palates, to synchronising cooking times and ensuring the soufflé is a specimen of celestial splendour, the most innocuous-seeming event can suddenly seem like a herculean task.

And all that’s before you’ve had time to set the table and transform yourself into a vision of unruffled elegance.

So if you’re unconvinced you can knock up a dumpling like Delia Smith or flambé like Fanny Craddock, despair no more. Whether a corporate function or intimate soiree, a wedding or a plain old ‘can’t-be-bothered-to-cook-day’, Chefs 2 U takes the fuss out of food with its bespoke private chef service.
Award-winning cuisinier and company founder Calvin Francis discovered the local niche during Antigua Sailing Week 2012.

“Most of the big yachts have their own chefs on board but we found many wanted to try local food, so we ended up catering for some of them. Then we realised there were a lot of private villa residents on island who wanted that service too,” he says.

“We offer the full package; we come to the villa, and prepare and serve the meal. We can do breakfast, lunch, dinner, kids’ meals, whatever they want.”
Clients are sent a sample menu, featuring a wide range of Antiguan and international fare, to tempt the tastebuds before Calvin pays a personal visit to design an individually tailored feast.

His passion for his work is clear. “It’s the personal aspect of it I like the most,” he continues, “I enjoy meeting with the clients, getting to know them and creating dishes I know they’re going to love.”

One of his signatures is Antiguan staple, fungee – a thick cornmeal paste – with curried conch. Together they forge a wonderfully nutritious meal of wholly local ingredients, gently spiced with turmeric, coriander and cumin.

In fact 90 per cent of all ingredients Chefs 2 U uses are sourced locally, many from St John’s Market. “Most of it’s organic and it’s as fresh as it gets,” Calvin says. “People tend to think Caribbean food is very spicy but it’s not, it all depends on the chef. Antiguan food in particular has a lot of heart in it. We take our time to cook it - and enjoy it!”

It’s now 11 years since the talented homegrown chef set up his thriving firm. After completing a two-year training course at the island’s Hospitality Training Institute, it was during a six-year stint as a sous chef at the exclusive Jumby Bay resort that his career took a sudden and unexpected turn.
“I was cooking a private dinner for a homeowner… I think it was rack of lamb,” he recalls with a smile. “He liked it so much he asked me to come to Ohio, California, to work in his restaurant.” Calvin didn’t think twice.

food1“I was surprised but I took the chance. I never expected my career would change like that. I got the chance to do a lot of wine pairings and later moved to a winery in San Diego. I lived there for 10 years and went to culinary school in California before moving back home in 2003.”

That was when Calvin spotted his first niche – hospital food. That may be something of an international joke but in Antigua it’s no laughing matter. The Heartbeat Café at Mount St John’s Medical Centre, manned by the firm’s 32-strong workforce, serves up a mouthwatering menu of delectable comestibles day and night, seven days a week, to patients and passersby alike.

It wasn’t long before the firm branched out into catering for weddings and functions. Today, it provides a diverse array of services from stocking the pantries of private properties, to cooking lessons and culinary tours. “We’ve had a huge amount of positive feedback since we started the private chef service two seasons ago. At the last house we cooked for, they asked if they could take the chef home with them,” he laughs. But with a booming business and a solid reputation as an expert outlet with delicious and reasonably priced fare, this time Calvin was staying put.

He adds with a grin: “I politely told them we’d still be here next time they came back."